In a scathing op-ed for The Washington Post published last night, former Attorney General Eric Holder criticized FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. In his letter, Holder argues that Comey broke protocol when he wrote a letter to Congress about reviewing the newly located emails, which were found on former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop. (Weiner is the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.) According to individuals familiar with the case, FBI officials stumbled across the emails weeks ago but did not brief Comey on the development until last Thursday. Comey’s announcement came 11 days before the general election; in July, he recommended that the Justice Department bring no charges against Clinton.
The FBI, wrote Holder, “has a practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations. Indeed, except in exceptional circumstances, the department will not even acknowledge the existence of an investigation. The department also has a policy of not taking unnecessary action close in time to Election Day that might influence an election’s outcome. These rules have been followed during Republican and Democratic administrations.”
The rules, he notes, “aren’t designed to help any particular individual or to serve any political interest.” Instead, they “are intended to ensure that every investigation proceeds fairly and judiciously; to maintain the public trust in the department’s ability to do its job free of political influence; and to prevent investigations from unfairly or unintentionally casting public suspicion on public officials who have done nothing wrong.”
Holder also questions the timing of Comey’s announcement: “I fear he has unintentionally and negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI. And he has allowed — again without improper motive — misinformation to be spread by partisans with less pure intentions,” he wrote. “Already, we have learned that the importance of the discovery itself may have been overblown. According to the director himself, there is no indication yet that the “newly discovered” emails bear any significance at all. And yet, because of his decision to comment on this development before sufficient facts were known, the public has faced a torrent of conspiracy theories and misrepresentations.”
Comey’s decision to hold a news conference the day he recommended the Justice Department bring no charges against Clinton did not escape Holder’s critical eye: “Instead of making a private recommendation to the attorney general––consistent with Justice Department policy––he chose to publicly share his professional recommendation, as well as his personal opinions, about the case. That was a stunning breach of protocol. It may set a dangerous precedent for future investigations. It was wrong,” Holder wrote. “The director said in July that he chose to take that extraordinary step in response to intense public interest… The additional public scrutiny such investigations provoke makes it even more important that we handle those cases consistently and responsibly. That is exactly why guidelines are put in place: so that Justice Department leaders, including FBI directors, will not substitute their own judgments and opinions for reasoned, fair, coherent and time-tested policy.”
“I served with Jim Comey and I know him well. This is a very difficult piece for me to write. He is a man of integrity and honor. I respect him. But good men make mistakes,” Holder concluded. “In this instance, he has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications. It is incumbent upon him — or the leadership of the department — to dispel the uncertainty he has created before Election Day. It is up to the director to correct his mistake — not for the sake of a political candidate or campaign but in order to protect our system of justice and best serve the American people.”
Holder is not the only prominent political figure to take Comey to task for his announcement to Congress. In a letter, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act, a 1939 law intended to keep federal workers from directly supporting political candidates, by reopening the Clinton investigation. “Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information,
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